Cuarenta Casas

Last updated
Cuarenta Casas
Cuarenta Casas archaeological site
Location Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico
Coordinates 29°35′40.04″N108°09′25.15″W / 29.5944556°N 108.1569861°W / 29.5944556; -108.1569861 Coordinates: 29°35′40.04″N108°09′25.15″W / 29.5944556°N 108.1569861°W / 29.5944556; -108.1569861
FoundedAround 600 CE. (Paquimé Culture)
AbandonedAround 1350 CE
Cultures Mogollon, Oasisamerica
Site notes
Website Las Cuarenta Casas, Pagina Web INAH

Cuarenta Casas is an archaeological site in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Construction of the site is attributed to the Mogollon culture.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fourth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Chihuahua (state) State of Mexico

Chihuahua, officially the Estado Libre y Soberano de Chihuahua, is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is located in Northwestern Mexico and is bordered by the states of Sonora to the west, Sinaloa to the southwest, Durango to the south, and Coahuila to the east. To the north and northeast, it has a long border with the U.S. adjacent to the U.S. states of New Mexico and Texas. Its capital city is Chihuahua City.

Mogollon culture ethnic group

Mogollon culture is an archaeological culture of Native American peoples from Southern New Mexico and Arizona, Northern Sonora and Chihuahua, and Western Texas, a region known as Oasisamerica.


Located in Vallecito in the municipality of Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Forty Houses is believed to be the southernmost site related to the period of Mogollon influence. The site consists of a series of cliff dwellings built in natural caves in the cliffs of Huapoca Canyon. The best known is the Cueva de las Ventanas (Cave of the Windows). Early Spanish explorers named the site Cuarenta Casas (forty houses) based on their speculation of the total number of structures. The area consists of five main cave communities: Cueva del Puente, Cueva de la Serpiente, Nido del Aguila and Cueva Grande.

Casas Grandes prehistoric archaeological site in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua

Casas Grandes is a prehistoric archaeological site in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Construction of the site is attributed to the Mogollon culture. Casas Grandes has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is under the purview of INAH.

Cliff dwelling style of house

In archeology, cliff dwellings are dwellings formed by using niches or caves in high cliffs, with more or less excavation or with additions in the way of masonry.

The Zone

Map of major Oasisamerican cultures, circa 1350 CE Oasisamerican cultures circa 1350 CE.png
Map of major Oasisamerican cultures, circa 1350 CE

The zone is located 45 kilometers north of the Maderas Municipality, in the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico, and some 250 kilometers northwest of Chihuahua City. There are five Paquimé Culture archaeological sites in this area, accessible from the Madera municipality, [1] are:

Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range

The Sierra Madre Occidental is a major mountain range system of the North American Cordillera, that runs northwest–southeast through northwestern and western Mexico, and along the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western 'backbone' of North America, Central America, South America and West Antarctica.


Located 36 kilometers west of Madera, by a dirt road. The Ancestral Pueblo caves consist of the Serpent and the Eagle Nest caves. They are considered the most impressive built on cliffs. Have complete structures. [1]

There are wonderful views of the Huapoca Canyon.

Cueva de la Serpiente

It has 14 adobe houses, over 1,000 years old. [1]

Nido del águila

It only has one house, built on the edge of a sheer cliff under a rocky overhang, provides a meaning to its name. [1]

Cueva Grande

Located 66 kilometers west of Madera, on a dirt road. Cueva Grande hides within convoluted land and behind branches of trees. The mouth of the cave is obscured by a waterfall from the top of the cave to a stream. [1] There are two, double-story houses (800 years old) that are good examples of the native construction techniques. There is also a round grain storage area behind the structure. [1]

La Ranchería

Cave complex, 50 kilometers south of Madera. Has an extended archaeological remain area at the base of the Sirupa canyon. [1]

Cueva del Puente

45 kilometers north of Madera

Cueva de Las Ventanas

During the early 16th century, explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote, "And here by the side of the mountain, we forged our way inland more than 50 leagues and there found forty houses (cuarenta casas)." [1]

Site History

The rock wall of the canyon, the Cueva de las Ventanas cliff dwelling is located left of center above a debris-covered cone. 40Casas2.jpg
The rock wall of the canyon, the Cueva de las Ventanas cliff dwelling is located left of center above a debris-covered cone.

The current inhabitation of Chihuahua probably initiated throughout the Western Mountain Range (Sierra Madre Occidental), when native hunter-gatherer groups moved from the north looking for areas with abundant edible plants. One of those groups produced the first known evidences in the "Cueva de las Ventanas", when they still lacked the constructions we now see. As these settlers dominated agricultural techniques, gradually began occupying the margins of the rivers and originated the Paquimé culture, neighboring what today is known as Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. [2]

Cuarentas Casas construction occurred during the height of Paquimé (Casas Grandes) (1205-1260 CE), a period corresponding to the late Mogollon culture period. Cuarentas Casas was a refuge site, [3] similar to others at the Mesa Verde and Bandelier sites. The buildings share the typical T-shaped doorways of their northern neighbors and are constructed from adobe and rock with pine logs beams. [2]

It is possible that Cuarenta Casas was a garrison that protected allied groups in the region, in addition to safekeeping commercial routes. It settlers farmed maize and pumpkin, their nourishment was supplemented with hunting of small species (rabbits) and harvesting of eatable wild plants like acorns, yucca seeds and maguey leaves. This was confirmed by remains found in archaeological excavations. The Paquimé regional center must have had frequent problems with hostile neighboring groups, which explains the presence of many surveillance points in extensive areas. Besieged by those groups or perhaps by internal problems, the settlement decayed, was abandoned and some of its inhabitants emigrated. [2]

Constructions date back to that period; at that time the zone was a meeting point for native traders of the Paquimé group communicating with the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California coasts, and to other cultural centers to the north such as Mesa Verde in Colorado and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The routes to the Pacific followed the Piedras Verdes River to the south and connected with the rivers that flow to the Pacific by way of smaller arroyos and canyons. Among these is the Huapoca Canyon to the west of the town of Madera. The Huapoca Canyon is not among the deepest of the Sierra Tarahumara but it possesses the most archaeological interest. [1]

The reasons why the settlement decayed, at 1340 CE are not known. At the Paquimé fall as social and cultural center, the commercial routes disappeared, the guardians left their posts and many settlements throughout the route were abandoned. Occasionally "Cueva de las Ventanas" was briefly occupied mainly with ceremonial purposes. [2]

As of 1520, the caves still were inhabited by native groups, hence it was possible to obtain information about their way of life, the natives named themselves "Jovas" or Cáhitas, and with that name they also referred to a group or larger family. This ethnic group is now considered extinct.

The latest occupation of Cuarenta Casas occurred during the Paquimé apogee (1205 to 1260 CE); this period corresponds to the late period of Paquimé culture. [2]

The Site

Typical T-shaped doorway 40Casas5.jpg
Typical T-shaped doorway
The large building in the Cueva de las Ventanas with Room 5 in the background. 40Casas3.jpg
The large building in the Cueva de las Ventanas with Room 5 in the background.

Of the cave complex, the only area partially restored is the "Cueva de las Ventanas". It is a small archaeological site constructed with strong walls of poured adobe, with small "T" doors, characterizing the region pre-Hispanic architecture. It is a two-story structure of which only the ground floor rooms can be visited, these are distributed such that space was maximized within the space available in the cave. [2]

Cueva de las Ventanas

Almost all rooms had stuccoed floors and furnaces.

Room 1

It is almost totally destroyed and was placed towards the cave slope. [2]

Room 2

On its higher section, a watchtower was constructed; it has a large number of small windows. It was equipped with a small drain channel and a urinal, the only ones found at the site. It is suspected it was used particularly during the crude winters of the region. [2]

Room 3

It is a large room, by its characteristics it must have been an area where most daily activities took place. Because of a sidewalk carved on the rock it is believed to have been used for certain ceremonies, as was done in the kivas, by southwestern US natives, from prehispanic times. This site has relevant similarities with sites of that region. [2]

The room is partially roofed with pine beams and displays remains of windows that would perhaps complement those of the watchtower. Vestiges of a normal size door was found, all others are a meter of high. In this enclosure and almost in all other, the remains of strong floors with well finished stucco can be seen. [2]

Room 4

It is almost totally destroyed, it lacks ceiling, and remaining walls indicate that its size was larger than others in the cave's back, with similar functions to those of Room 3. [2]

Room 5

Its layout is irregular and it was built over a large rock. From old photographs of the site, it is known that its interior had an oval-shaped barn, with a kind of woven grass cover. Its overall height was two meters, currently, it is totally destroyed and it is only possible to see remains of the walls in the floor; these were reinforced with dry woven grass and covered with mud. Other similar barns have been found in like sites of the "Sierra Madre Occidental". [2]

Room 6

The remaining rooms were built at the end of the cave, embedded in the rocky wall and it is believed were housing units.

Number 6 is in the south side and still has its ceiling pine wood beams in good conditions. Being adjacent to rooms 3 and 7 it is very dark and cold. [2]

Rooms 7 and 8

Number 7 is similar to the previous one, does not have any distinguishing characteristics. Number 8 lacks a ceiling and has access to a small area that perhaps was used as an internal patio. Perhaps it was used to manufacture arrows, as a required complementary activity. Several stone tools were found, of the type used to carve and smooth the wooden materials used to make projectiles. [2]

Rooms 9 and 10

Both are deteriorated and 10 were probably propped up by the last inhabitants. Vestiges of small stoves were found as well as compacted earth steps that lead to the long enclosures that are to the front. [2]

Room 11

Basically it is similar to the previous, but for some reason native groups of similar cultures to the constructors, visited it and painted zoomorphic designs on its walls; these are streamlined figures that represent elongated birds, the beak is apparent. It is possible that these artists were the original inhabitants, which returned to celebrate some type of ritual that could not be made elsewhere. [2]

Room 12

An individual burial was found, perhaps a local leader, it was placed in the small space between the wall and the rock of the cave. It had a small maize offering, one ceramic pot and a leather bag with pinole, used by pre-Hispanic people of Mexico. The burial also contained, semiprecious stones, possibly currency to ensure his entrance to the underworld. The man was shrouded in a mortuary bed roll (Petate) similar those depicted in some of the pre-Hispanic codices. [2]

Rooms 13 and 14

Number 13 is very deteriorated and perhaps had large dimensions.

Number 14 is smaller and isolated, was constructed at the rocky bottom and because of its small dimensions it could only be used to sleep, as well as to temporarily isolate people, as per inhabitants beliefs, and as was done with young girls at the time of their first menstruation. This custom was practiced by native groups of the area, even in current times. [2]

From this room it is possible to see the floors of the second floor rooms, although deteriorated, clay molded forms can be seen near the center of each floor; these are of rectangular shape and not too high, perhaps stoves used in the site. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Nuevo Casas Grandes Place in Chihuahua, Mexico

Nuevo Casas Grandes is a city in, and the seat of, the Nuevo Casas Grandes Municipality in northern Mexico. It is located in the northwestern part of the state of Chihuahua, on the Casas Grandes or San Miguel river, situated in a wide, fertile valley on the 4,000-foot Mesa del Norte of the Plateau of Mexico. Nearby is the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Amerind Foundation museum and research facility

The Amerind Foundation is a museum and research facility dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Native American cultures and their histories. Its facilities are located near the village of Dragoon in Cochise County, Arizona, about 65 miles east of Tucson in Texas Canyon.

The Cochise Tradition refers to the southern archeological tradition of the four Southwestern Archaic Traditions, in the present-day Southwestern United States.

Oasisamerica Pre-Columbian cultural region of North America

Oasisamerica is a term used by some scholars, primarily Mexican anthropologists, for the broad cultural area defining pre-Columbian southwestern North America. It extends from modern-day Utah down to southern Chihuahua, and from the coast on the Gulf of California eastward to the Río Bravo river valley. Its name comes from its position in relationship with the similar regions of Mesoamerica and mostly nomadic Aridoamerica. The term Greater Southwest is often used to describe this region by American anthropologists.

Emil Haury American archaeologist

Emil Walter "Doc" Haury was an influential archaeologist who specialized in the archaeology of the American Southwest. He is most famous for his work at Snaketown, a Hohokam site in Arizona.

Southwestern archaeology is a branch of archaeology concerned with the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. This region has long been occupied by hunter-gatherers and agricultural peoples.

Píñar municipality in Granada, Spain

Píñar is a municipality located in the province of Granada, Spain. It is located at 46 km from Granada, and 11 km from Iznalloz, capital of the Comarca of Los Montes Orientales.

Casas Grandes Municipality Municipio libre in Chihuahua, Mexico

Casas Grandes Municipality is located in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. The municipal seat is the town of Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

Candelaria Cave

Cueva de la Candelaria is an archaeological site located in the Coahuila State (México). It is a cave that was used as cemetery by nomad visitors. Early site research was made in 1953 and there was a later season in 1954. As a result of these investigations, many materials were recovered and are kept by Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).

Cueva de la Olla (archaeological site)

Cueva de la Olla is an archaeological site located in the northwest of the Chihuahua State, some 47 km southwest of Nuevo Casas Grandes near the Ignacio Zaragoza Ejido.

Cueva de la Ranchería is an archaeological site located south of Ciudad Madera, in the Sirupa Canyon region, northwest of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Cueva de la Momia is an archaeological site located in the region of Ciudad Madera, in the Sirupa Canyon region, northwest of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is located at the foot of a very high cliff on the ravine of the Arroyo del Venado, shortly before it joins the Rio Chico; in the vicinity of the Huápoca Canyon, is a series of caves where a number of mummies were found.


Huápoca is an archaeological site located 36 kilometers west of Ciudad Madera, in the Huápoca Canyon region, northwest of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

La Ferrería is an archaeological site located 7 kilometers south of the City of Durango, in the state of Durango, México, at the “Cerro de La Ferrería”, on the side of the Tunal River.

La Pintada is an archaeological site located some 60 kilometers south of the city of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, within the “La Pintada” canyon, part of the “Sierra Libre”, a small mountain massif of the coastal plains that extends throughout the Sonoran Desert.

Mata Ortiz pottery

Mata Ortiz pottery is a recreation of the Mogollon pottery found in and around the archeological site of Casas Grandes (Paquimé) in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Named after the modern town of Mata Ortiz, which is near the archeological site, the style was propagated by Juan Quezada Celado. Quezada learned on his own to recreate this ancient pottery and then went on to update it. By the mid 1970s, Quezada was selling his pottery and teaching family and friends to make it and the pottery was able to penetrate the U.S. markets thanks to efforts by Spencer MacCallum and later Walt Parks along with Mexican traders. By the 1990s, the pottery was being shown in museums and other cultural institutions and sold in fine galleries. The success of the pottery, which is sold for its aesthetic rather than its utilitarian value, has brought the town of Mata Ortiz out of poverty, with most of its population earning income from the industry, directly or indirectly.

Indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest regional culture of native peoples in southwestern North America

Indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest refers to the area identified with the current states of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada in the western United States, and the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico. An often quoted statement from Erik Reed (1964) defined the Greater Southwest culture area as extending north to south from Durango, Mexico to Durango, Colorado and east to west from Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Other names sometimes used to define the region include "American Southwest", "North Mexico", "Chichimeca", and "Oasisamerica/Aridoamerica". This region has long been occupied by hunter-gatherers and agricultural people.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Cave Dwellings of the Huapoca Canyon". Adventures Great and Small. Retrieved August 27, 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Guevara Sánchez, Arturo (1986). "Las cuarenta casas, Pagina Web INAH" [Las Cuarenta Casas, INAH Web Page] (in Spanish). Archived from the original on December 16, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2010.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "CAVE DWELLINGS OF THE HUAPOCA CANYON, MEXICO" . Retrieved July 10, 2010.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further reading